Rahab's Retreat and Ranch has been officially open for just over two years but the organization has grown a lot in that time and is on track to continue developing and improving its programs and facility.
The faith-based, donation-supported women's shelter on Stone Road helps women from across the country transition from lives dominated by sex trafficking or sex industry work to new lives focused on freedom, recovery and self-sufficiency.
An open house was held at the retreat on Dec. 5, 6 and 7 to invite members of the public who may not know about the transformations happening in the former nursing home on Stone Road.
“We have a program called ‘Adopt A Room', said Shamala Abshire, who handles public relations for the retreat. “What people have done, groups, couples, churches, families, they adopt a room. They come in and they actually do the whole entire room. They trim it out, they paint it, they furnish it and they decorate it. That's how all of our rooms up here have been done. Every single room in the house has been adopted. We have two more wings and once we get the construction finished on those, we'll be calling people to come in and start those rooms as well. That will open up 40 more rooms.
Every adopted room is customized by its adopters, meaning no two residential rooms are alike in the facility.
Abshire explained a board inside the building entrance is covered with signatures of people who have adopted rooms and donated time, work and money to the facility. Two large areas have been left blank in anticipation of more signatures from people adopting rooms in the new wings.
“Right now we have 17 women and 28 children, Abshire said, though the plan is to allow more women and their children to live at the retreat once more rooms are completed. Residents must be over the age of 18 to secure a room at Rahab's, though the facility allows them to bring their children. Childcare is provided and the kids have their own playroom, which includes toys, games and a slide.
Rahab's Retreat began as the mission of Teresa Richenberger, who escaped a life of drugs, alcohol and sex industry work by finding support at a small church. After her recovery, Richenberger wanted to help other women as she had been helped. Rahab's Retreat was the result.
A former nursing home, the site on Stone Road sat empty for over a decade before Richenberger negotiated with the property owner to lower the asking price. Abshire said Richenberger handed the property owner a check for the down payment and asked him to wait a few days before cashing it. She prayed and, as if by a miracle, a donor provided her with the money to cover the check before it was cashed.
Those kinds of donations are critical to supporting the mission of Rahab's Retreat. That's one reason for the open house: to let the public know the facility needs support to continue helping women transform their lives.
On Wednesday, Richenberger said the community was already coming to check out the open house.
“It just got started this morning so we've had a couple tours this morning. I'm sure by lunchtime we'll have more, Richenberger said.
A gift shop at the facility is filled with items being sold to supplement donations and offset the costs of running the retreat.
“The ladies actually make handmade jewelry to sell because we are donations-only. We have no state funding, no government funding. We do t-shirts, Teresa has book she sells called ‘Sold to the Highest Bidder', Abshire said.
A shower room at the facility was recently renovated and improved by three women from Kilgore College who had no former construction experience. With a combination of hard work and YouTube video tutorials, the three women turned the room into a sparkling, clean amenity. Abshire said it was a great lesson for the residents, showing them women can accomplish anything they put their minds to.
Rahab's also includes a dining room and commercial kitchen. Staff and residents have been busy in the kitchen lately, baking over 600 loaves of banana nut bread to distribute to their supporters in the Kilgore community, including donors, firefighters and police officers. On Wednesday, they were in the midst of baking over 1500 loaves to give to supporters in Longview.
“We wanted to give back to the community, Abshire said.
In addition to living space, Rahab's Retreat also includes a nursery, a space for worship sessions and therapy, staff offices, a laundry room, an exercise room, a library, a computer learning center, a walk-in pantry, cooler and freezer for food storage. Donors have provided the retreat with a church van for transportation, a car, playground equipment and outside benches. Rahab's also has access to nearby land where horses are pastured, allowing the facility programs to include animal therapy.
Abshire said a property next door to the facility would be ideal for expansion and the staff prayed it would become available. One day, the property owners suddenly decided to move to Florida and put the property up for sale. Money is being raised to purchase the property, she said.
Women in the program go through a year-long course, which includes therapy, counseling, and educational opportunities. They learn parenting skills, household skills and how to complete a resume.
Residents can earn their GED and prepare for college. After completing the program, women can continue living at and receiving support from the retreat while they pursue their education. Six women in the program currently attend Kilgore College, four studying social work and two studying nursing.
Tours of Rahab's Retreat are available and Abshire said it's best to call ahead to schedule a tour. The gift shop is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.